Friday, March 8, 2002
Good morning, and special wishes today to all members of the fairer sex.  In some countries, 8 March is celebrated as 'International Women's Day' - indeed, it is even a public holiday in Russia, and, talking of Russia, this evening will hopefully see me flying back to Moscow again for another two weeks (the Aeroflot flight has already been delayed, and I'm worried it might be cancelled entirely!).

This Week's Column :  International Cell Phone Service :  If you're at all like me, you rely heavily on a cellphone, and feel nearly naked when overseas, unable to do anything more than look enviously at the locals with their omnipresent cellphones.  In this, part 1 of a 2 part series, I explain how you too can enjoy a cellphone that will work in 174 different countries, all around the world.

There seems to be a new approach towards 'flying by consensus' with several incidents being reported of pilots seeking the opinion of the passengers as to what they should do (for this we pay them as much as a third of a million dollars a year?).  For example, last week, an Italian charter flight from Milan to Cuba experienced flames shoot out of an engine on takeoff.  The pilot told the 250 passengers that the plane was safe, but decided to hold a vote about what he should do!  The holidaymakers elected, overwhelmingly, to abort the 5,000 mile journey and to return to Milan.

You've read this story so often in my newsletters now it is becoming boring.  February traffic figures are in for European airlines, and the two big winners are discount carriers Go (traffic up 74% year on year) and easyJet (up 36%).  Both carriers attribute their increased traffic to more business travelers switching from the tired old high cost traditional airlines (who promise service but never provide it) and instead flying the new low cost carriers (who don't promise any service at all, but often provide better service, and more cheerfully, than their expensive rivals).  And, here in the US, industry wunderkind JetBlue is increasing its coast to coast service.  When will the traditional carriers get the message that the market is screaming at them.

Long time users of Windows will recognize the phrase 'the blue screen of death' - that all too frequently incurred blue screen in Windows that used to appear, advising users that the system had completely crashed.  This phrase might take on an entirely new meaning now - Microsoft proudly announced this week that the new BMW 7 series sedan would use Windows CE software to control its in-dash computer!

Do you remember, several months ago, when Atlanta's airport had to be shut down for three hours due to a man not stopping as he rushed through security?  They prosecuted him for criminal and civil damages.  He made a confidential settlement to the airline (described as substantially less than the $100,000 in damages that they sought as compensation for the delay).  But the criminal case say him being convicted of trespass.  He is required to spend five weekends in jail and spend 500 hours of community service.  In addition, because the reason he was rushing was so as to catch a flight to a football game, he has been banned from all relevant games for the entire next season.

Okay, so you might be cheering about this.  But, surely, what is 'good for the goose is good for the gander'.  Who is being sued for the series of accidentally unplugged metal detectors that have been cropping up around the country's airports the last few weeks?  Who is liable for any of the delays when it is caused by (excuse my bluntness) screwups in our pathetic airport security system?  No-one.  Seems to me that this poor individual is guilty, most of all, of being a scapegoat.

Delta takes the high road.  Yesterday Delta Airlines announced that it is joining what is becoming an exodus of high profile clients, and has terminated its accounting services contract with Andersens, the controversial accounting firm that audited Enron.  In 2000, Delta paid Andersen $1.9 million in auditing fees and another $4 million in consulting and other fees.  But, all you accountants, don't rush to Delta with your proposals - they've already appointed Deloitte Touche to replace Andersen!

This week's security horror story :  There's your way, my way, and - no, not the navy way, but, apparently, American Airlines' way.  In a classic statement that reveals the startling depth of airline arrogance, AA gate agents are alleged to be refusing to seat federal air marshals in first class; apparently, upon being told about the regulations that require the airlines to do this, one agent said that the federal regulation on seating marshals was "not American Airlines' policy" and that the airline "had no intention of complying with that regulation."  Another agent refused to allow a marshal to preboard a flight and conduct a quick cabin security/safety search, because she didn't want to risk not having an on-time departure.  Full gory details here.

And, for a bonus, all those fancy new and very expensive bomb detectors that are supposed to check our luggage for bombs?  Guess what.  This story suggests they don't work!

But the real horror story for this week has to go to Los Angeles airport (yet again).  Security agents discovered a fake toy grenade in an item of luggage.  So, what did they do?  Yes, that's right.  They evacuated several terminals and required all passengers to go through screening a second time, delaying countless thousands of people.  And what did they do with the fake toy grenade?  That got 'blown up' - just to be on the safe side, I guess!  Can someone explain to me why, after discovering a toy grenade, it is necessary to evacuate the airport???

In a similar incident, a pair of scissors were found in a restroom trash bin in a secure area of the Bradley International Terminal at LAX.  This required the evacuation of the terminal.  Does that make you feel safer, or just plain annoyed and inconvenienced?

The DOT's January airline consumer report is now available.  America West leads the pack in on-time arrivals with Southwest coming in second, Continental third, and Delta last. Alaska came in first with the least number of mishandled baggage complaints while American had the highest number of mishandled bags. Southwest had the least number of consumer complaints, Alaska came in second and American third. United came in last, a place it is familiar sadly familiar with! Continental came in first with the fewest cancelled flights, and Delta was last with the most cancelled flights for the month.

Starwood Hotels has been hit by a $100 million class action lawsuit that alleges the company misrepresented a "resort fee" as a legitimate tax. The suit says the resort fee charged by Starwood was not really a tax remitted by Starwood to any government authority but rather an additional charge that was improperly retained by Starwood. The case seeks damages of at least $100 million.  Last year Carnival paid an estimated $126 million to settle a class action suit due to it charging a supplement for docking fees on which it made a profit, but without saying it did any wrongdoing.  Makes you really wonder about some of those other fees, doesn't it!

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels

David M Rowell aka The Travel Insider
ps :  Don't forget to visit Joe Brancatelli's site for his weekly updates, too.

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